Fire in Shopping Center Kills 46

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In Dhaka, Bangladesh, a six-story commercial building was engulfed in flames on the evening of February 29, resulting in a substantial number of deaths and injuries.

The catastrophic fire took the lives of at least 46 individuals and caused injuries to many more, some of whom are in critical condition. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina said there were no fire exits.

The fire was initiated around 10:00 PM. Early reports suggested that the fire originated in Kacchi Bhai, a restaurant in the building. However, further investigations and a statement from Abdul Halim, the manager of Kacchi Bhai, shifted the focus towards Chumak, another ground-floor restaurant. The fire rapidly spread throughout the building, which housed multiple shops and eateries, putting those trapped inside in a grave situation.

Emergency response teams reached the site and fought the blaze for over two hours before they were able to contain it. Their mission was seriously hampered by the building’s dangerous design, which included the presence of gas cylinders on every level and along staircases, as well as a stark absence of necessary safety features such as proper ventilation, fire safety equipment, and well-defined emergency exits.

According to the Health Minister, Samanta Lal Sen, 33 victims were pronounced dead upon arrival at Dhaka Medical College Hospital; three others died later, and another 10 deaths were reported at the city’s main burns hospital. In addition, at least 22 people are currently in critical care in hospitals. This tragic incident has once again highlighted the urgent need for proper fire safety measures in Bangladesh, drawing attention to the often insufficient safety procedures in both commercial and residential buildings.

Survivors’ eyewitness accounts offer chilling tales of their escape; individuals were forced to flee through broken windows or descend the building using makeshift ropes; some jumped to their deaths from higher floors. Survivor Mohammad Altaf narrated his narrow escape, a grim story marked by the tragic loss of two colleagues who actively participated in the evacuation but ultimately did not survive. The building only had one staircase and one elevator, according to witnesses. Violations of building codes were evident, as eight restaurants operated in a building without permits for food establishments, and builders had not fixed fire extinguishing system problems.

Brigadier General Main Uddin, who leads the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense, suggested that the fire could have been sparked by a gas leak or a faulty stove. He emphasized the dangerous state of the building, exacerbated by the improper storage of combustible materials such as gas cylinders throughout the infrastructure.

These recurrent fires have reignited concerns over the implementation of building codes and safety regulations within Dhaka.

The government, in response, has announced the establishment of an investigative committee. The committee’s mandate is to determine the exact cause of the fire and evaluate the safety standards of commercial buildings across the city.

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